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A Picture Book Biography: Some Writer! The Story of E.B.White

Melissa Sweet latest book is Some Writer! The Story of E.B.White, a collage picture book about E.B.White. The book gets its name as a derivative of ‘Some pig’, from Charlotte’s Web, White’s enduring classic of wits and survival. The book is written based on a great deal of research and the author has had access to photographs from the White family’s album. An added treasure is an afterword by E.B.White’s granddaughter Martha White.

She has to her illustration credit a hundred odd books of every kind. Some of her notable works include A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, a 2008 Caldecott Honor book, an NCTE Notable Children’s Book and a New York Times Best Illustrated, The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy SierraRubia and the Three Osos by Susan Middleton Elya, Baby Bears Big Dreams by Jane Yolen and Day is Done by Peter Yarrow.

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E.B.White’s interaction with the world was through the written word. After Charlotte’s Web became a hit, his office at The New Yorker  was often visited by press people who wanted to interview him. The fire escape often helped him in making a quick getaway.White often slipped in and out of office without attracting any attention, loath as he was to be noticed and asked for sound bytes! He was the happiest with his farm animals, writing and fishing. His ability to write as he spoke comes through in this passage in which he writes about his childhood.

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Born in 1899, Elwyn Brooks White was a shy child who preferred shunning the limelight. Born into a large family of 5 siblings, Elwyn was the sixth. The family kept themselves busy with each other and their loving parents. Quite early on, Elwyn loved reading and words. His love of writing grew from this.

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Their father owned a piano company and the children all had access to musical instruments.In the book he says:

We were practically a ready- made band. All we lacked was talent. We had violins, cellos, mandolins, guitars, banjos and drums, and there was always a lot of music filling the home, none of it good. We sang, we composed, we harmonized, drummed…in an attempt to raise the general tone of commotion.

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Young Elwyn was an anxious, quiet child. This shy child had a faithful friend in his dog Beppo, seen in the picture above. White’s love of dogs extended through his life. He went on to  12 dogs in his lifetime and often wrote about them or as them, as he did with Daisy, his beloved Scott. Sweet shares his words on his loyal, childhood friend Mac.

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White suffered from a pollen allergy and this prompted his urban family to try a different environment and they went for a trip to Belgrade lakes in Maine, where they joined his brothers. Here the family reveled in the outdoors, went boating and hiking in the fresh air. They often enjoyed the soda Moxie, a cap of which is captured for posterity in Sweet’s book.

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Elwyn loved going with his brother watching pond life, waiting to see eggs hatch and sit at the bank of the lake, while the waves gently lapped to shore. He also maintained a notebook journal in which he recorded the events of the day; its high points and low points for him to remember and savour.He also made drawings of the teeming insect and plant life he saw around him.

Sweet had a sit-down sessions with White’s granddaughter Martha White, in which they went through all the memorabilia that defined White -pictures, letters, his old typewriter, his journals; What came out of it was a 176-page picture book biography, full of delicious texturised illustrations and collages and many interesting details about E.B.White. Sweet speaks about it in the book trailer.

If you are an E.B.White fan or know a budding young writer or a child who loves illustrating, this is the book to gift.

White shifted to Maine for good after his marriage . It is here that  he wrote his stories for children Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan among other things. He was happiest here amid the quiet familiar surroundings, where he typed away his masterpieces on his Corona.

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The book covers E.B.White’s life through engaging illustrated timelines, chapter notes, bibliography, and artist’s note. This well-crafted, lyrical book is a verbal and visual delight.Sweet’s labour of love, honours the writer who influenced her greatly with his words. She does this with  meticulous research, delight, and lightness that shines through in this book.

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